Abdominal pain and constipation often go hand in hand. Abdominal pain is a symptom that commonly presents with constipation. Constipation occurs when you have difficulty or are unable to have a bowel movement.
Common symptoms of constipation may include:
- having less than three bowel movements in a week, or less frequently than normal
- abdominal pain with or without bloating
- stools that are hard, lumpy, and dry
- inability to completely empty your bowels
- feeling like there’s something blocking your stools
- feeling the need to press on your abdomen to help empty your bowels
- straining to have a bowel movement
The symptoms of abdominal pain when related to constipation may include:
- little or no appetite
- general stomachache
Constipation that includes abdominal pain is common. In most cases, it’s caused by gas buildup in the abdomen or from the need to have a bowel movement. Mild or moderate abdominal pain and constipation together isn’t usually cause for concern.
What are the causes?
The causes of abdominal pain and constipation are varied. Some broad segments of causes include your lifestyle, medications you’re taking, and medical conditions. Within each of these segments are multiple things that can lead to abdominal pain and constipation.
Lifestyle and everyday causes
Lifestyle causes can include:
- not eating enough foods with fiber, such as vegetables, fruit, or cereal
- change in your routine or eating habits, such as dieting
- not drinking enough water to keep stools soft and promote movement through the bowels
- not getting enough physical activity
- ignoring the need to have a bowel movement
Medications that can cause abdominal pain and constipation may include:
- iron supplements
- calcium supplements
- pain medications or narcotics
- anti-seizure medications
- medication to control muscle spasms
- some antidepressants
Health conditions that may cause abdominal pain and constipation may include:
- inflammatory bowel disease
- irritable bowel syndrome
- multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- spinal cord injuries
- brain injuries
- anal fissure, or tear
- bowel obstruction
- cancer of the colon or rectum
- weakened pelvic muscles
Treating abdominal pain and constipation
Treatment for abdominal pain and constipation varies depending on the cause. Most treatment will range from lifestyle or dietary changes to medications. In some chronic cases, surgery may be required for blockages, tears in the anus, or conditions that other treatments can’t help.
- Gradually increase the amount of high-fiber foods in your diet. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereal, and whole-grain breads.
- Increase the amount of water you drink each day. Here’s how much you should aim to drink each day.
- Increase the amount of physical activity you get each day.
- Don’t put off a bowel movement or rush a bowel movement. Go to the bathroom as soon as possible when you feel the urge. Take your time to allow all of the stool to pass.
- Laxatives and stimulants. These can help move and soften stool while encouraging a bowel movement.
- Mineral oil or other lubricants. These can soften stool and help it pass more easily.
- Fiber supplements.
- Enemas. Enemas can soften the stool and encourage a bowel movement. Here’s how to administer one.
- Stool softeners. These can soften the stool to allow it to pass.
- Suppositories. Here’s to use a rectal suppository.
- Prescription medications. Prescribed medications can work in a variety of ways. Most draw more water into the intestines and stimulate the muscles of the intestines to promote a bowel movement.
- Surgery. Surgery can treat blockages, tears, tumors, or other structural causes of constipation.
- Pelvic muscle strengthening or training. You can train your pelvic muscles to relax and contract at the right time to help with bowel movements.
When to see your doctor
Many times, you can treat constipation on your own using over-the-counter medication or making some lifestyle changes. However, if your constipation doesn’t clear up with common home remedies, then see your doctor.
Also see your doctor if you have symptoms of a potentially more serious condition. These symptoms include:
- bleeding from your rectum
- blood in stools
- extreme exhaustion that lasts for a long time
- unexplained weight loss
- having chronic constipation (lasting two to three months)
- changes in your bowel habits that are sudden and unexplained
- severe abdominal pain
- abdomen is tender to the touch
What’s the outlook?
Abdominal pain and constipation are common symptoms. A number of lifestyle and medical causes can lead to these symptoms. If symptoms don’t clear up or get worse, it’s important that you see your doctor. Your doctor will work to find and treat the underlying cause.
If your abdominal pain and constipation are caused by medications or a medical condition, your doctor will provide treatment options for clearing up your current constipation. They can also help you prevent future problems.
You can often prevent abdominal pain and constipation by making healthy lifestyle choices:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Eat a diet that includes high-fiber foods.
- Get regular physical activity.